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Theology

Aceding to Acedia

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Sermon delivered at New College, Christ the King, 24 November 2019

If you’ve watched any adverts recently, you’ll have noticed that the advertising team at BT are suffering from flashbacks to their A-levels. In their ad, a schoolgirl walks across town, intoning Dickens: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times…”

In a bizarre twist, its backing track is Stormzy’s Blinded by your Grace, in a Dickens/God mash-up that feels entirely appropriate for a New College sermon, because the liturgy for today’s festival of Christ the King is all about these contrasts. On the one hand, the reading from Jeremiah is about God sending a King to gather the lost sheep of Israel, and the Psalm and the anthem are about God defending his chosen people; while on the other hand the Gospel reading is about God failing to show up to rescue Jesus at the crucifixion, as the thieves on either side also die painfully on their crosses. Read More

Thought For The Day – Bonfire Night – 5th Nov 2019

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Remember, remember the fifth of November…

Guy Fawkes was by no means the only conspirator in the gunpowder plot, but he’s succeeded in being the man we most associate with it. His claim to the day was immortalised by the mask used in the graphic novel and film, ‘V for Vendetta’, where the character V is masked as Guy Fawkes throughout. Since then, demonstrators against parliaments and powers the world over have worn the Guy Fawkes mask, because it says at the end of the film: ‘V was you…and me. He was all of us.’ Read More

Thought For The Day – Sharing The Harvest – 24th Sep 2019

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This weekend was Harvest Festival. When I was little, we’d set off to church for it, laden with bounty from the garden – marrows and broad beans; redcurrants and gooseberries – and we’d decorate every corner of the church with our harvest offerings. The altar would be surrounded by sheaves of corn and elaborately plaited bread, and we’d sing ‘We plough the fields and scatter’ like we’d all personally done so. Read More

Thought For The Day – Forgotten Places – 20th Aug 2019

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In Scotland we’re famous for majestic unspoilt landscapes, and there’s some unusual proof that some of them are really quite empty of people: in the rankings of the least popular Ordnance Survey maps in the UK, Scotland claims all of the top ten. If you watch Landward on BBC Scotland, you’ll have seen a recent episode where the team took on the challenge of visiting the area covered by the map at number 1: OS Explorer 440, covering an area in the Highlands, north of Inverness. As soon as the team arrives, they see an osprey, then a lizard, then a beautiful waterfall: not quite the featureless landscape one might assume from it being so decisively overlooked by the map-buying community. Read More

Thought For The Day – Fair Play – 15th Aug 2019

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Strange things are happening in cathedrals down south. In Rochester, they’ve installed crazy golf; and in the nave at Norwich you can slide down an enormous helter skelter. No news of anything like that in Scotland, yet. But if you’re from St Andrews, the news in August has always been about the fun of the fair. The rides might not be inside the churches, but the whole town grinds to a halt every year, as one by one, the main streets are taken over by the Lammas Market. It’s said to be Europe’s oldest surviving medieval street fair, and it’s been running now for over 900 years. Read More

Thought For The Day – The Wrong Person – 14th June 2019

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I wonder if you might join me in a thought experiment. Imagine there’s a new rule, that everyone whose birthday it is, has to attend the same birthday party. Today, in one corner you’d have Steffi Graf and Boy George, eating cake and comparing notes on the paparazzi. In the other, you’d have Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, chatting to Donald Trump, the 45th President of the United States of America. Can you imagine that conversation? Let’s make it a bit more weird. Say in heaven – if they all make it there – you continue this birthday tradition. These four would be joined by Che Guevara, the South American revolutionary; and Judith Kerr, author of When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit. Sam Wanamaker the director would be there too, to capture the whole thing on film. Read More

Robot Souls

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Sermon preached before the University of Oxford at the University Church of St Mary the Virgin on Sunday 5 May 2019

Over the centuries Oxford has been home to many influential thinkers. One whose college stands not far from here is South Park’s great Messiah, Richard Dawkins, the posterboy of the zeitgeist. He epitomises the prevailing intellectual narrative in this country, that of a secularism cured of all superstition and fancy, in the distinguished tradition of the Enlightenment philosopher David Hume. It’s so intellectually fashionable to be an atheist these days, that I congratulate you on your daring in coming here today. I mention Dawkins, because in taking up his cause I wonder whether his acolytes appreciate quite what’s at stake, in following his logic to its natural conclusion. Because those who argue that we’re nothing but an evolved species that happens currently to be in charge, have already effectively signed our species over to the robots. Read More

Thought For The Day – It’s My Birthday – 5th Feb 2019

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It’s my birthday today! The great thing about birthdays is that even if the sheer excitement of presents and parties tends to wane with the years, what doesn’t change is that feeling deep inside that somehow it’s your day. It feels as though the moment of your birth caused such an outburst of joy from everyone near and dear to you, that the echoes of it keep reverberating down the years, so you feel buoyed up by it again on every birthday. Read More

Thought For The Day – Blessings – 10th Jan 2019

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January’s a tricky month, emotionally speaking. It contains Blue Monday, statistically the saddest day of the year, a calculation based on weather conditions, levels of debt, and the length of time since Christmas. Crucially, enough time has now passed for us to have already failed to keep our new year’s resolutions: we know we need to take ourselves in hand, but we currently lack the motivation to do so. And for many people that means insomnia, as we while away the wee small hours fretting about our failings. Read More

Thought For The Day – Index

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I have been delivering “Thought For The Day” pieces on BBC Radio Scotland since November 2016. By kind permission these pieces are reproduced in blog posts here on my website and this post serves an index to these pieces.

5th November 2019 – Bonfire Night

24th September 2019 – Sharing The Harvest

20th August 2019 – Forgotten Places

15th August 2019 – Fair Play

14th June 2019 – The Wrong Person

5th February 2019 – It’s My Birthday

10th January 2019 – Blessings

2nd October 2018 – Choices

4th September 2018 – Weather-making

23rd August 2018 – Festival Season

25th July 2018 – St Anne

8th June 2018 – Sabbath

29th March 2018 – The Royal Maundy

8th March 2018 – International Women’s Day

19th January 2018 – Loneliness

14th November 2017 – The BBC

30th August 2017 – Bridges

18th August 2017 – Sad News

27th July 2017 – The Sleeper

11th May 2017 – Blessed Transactions

28th April 2017 – Passing Places

28th February 2017 – Pancake Day

2nd February 2017 – Groundhog Day

1st November 2016 – Red Letter Days